Disney World furloughing 43,000 workers

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – Walt Disney World in Florida plans to furlough about 43,000 workers after it closed last month because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company and a union coalition representing the workers said.

In mid-March, Disney theme parks worldwide closed, including Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California.

The furloughs, which are set to begin on April 19, were part of an agreement between Disney World and the Service Trades Council Union, a collection of six unions representing the 43,000 workers at the theme park resort in Florida.

“This is a decision that the union doesn’t like,” Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, said on Saturday in a Facebook Live announcement. “However, it’s within the company’s right to lay off and furlough employees in this situation.”

He noted that a furlough – when workers are laid off temporarily with no pay – generally would have an end date but in this case it does not because of the uncertainties about when the coronavirus crisis will end.

The workers, who are expected to be called back to their jobs, will be able to keep their health benefits during the furlough period. Also, they will not lose their seniority or have their pay reduced, Mr Clinton said on Sunday. The workers earn US$13 to US$20 an hour, he said.

The union represents employees, known as cast members, in various jobs, including as theme park attendants, custodians, vacation planners, housekeepers, bus drivers and monorail workers. “Anything service-related,” Clinton said.

The employees will be immediately eligible to enroll in state unemployment benefits. The company has agreed to provide members who have health care benefits with free health care for a year.

Walt Disney World, which includes Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot theme parks, employs about 77,000 people, according to the union. Disney World draws an average of more than 52 million visitors a year.

In a statement on Sunday (April 12), the company confirmed the furlough agreement with the union.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Service Trades Council Union that will maintain members’ health insurance benefits coverage, educational support and additional employee assistance programs during a temporary furlough effective April 19,” the statement said.

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